How to Diagnose Behavior When Let Down

Excellent performance begins with clear expectations. When you have clear agreements, commitments, and goals, you’re more likely to achieve better results. What happens, though, when someone doesn’t deliver?

Whether it’s an employee who is constantly late for work or a child who fails to complete their homework, a failure to meet expectations can have a strong, negative impact on your relationship and performance. How you deal with these issues – how you hold someone accountable – will either mend the relationship and improve performance or devastate the relationship and halt performance.

Ask yourself: How do I deal with this at home? How do I deal with this at the workplace? Do I even deal with it at all?

Avoidance:  The Alternative to Accountability

The alternative to dealing with these issues is avoidance. Avoidance is an epidemic. We studied hospitals and found that every day, people in healthcare stand next to coworkers and colleagues and don’t say anything when someone fails to meet expectations. No one will speak to a physician, and only 10 percent of people will speak to nurses.

This is a big issue. By staying completely silent and avoiding a confrontation, you vote for the status quo. You give your permission for what’s happening. Therefore, problems persist and accountability disappears.

After studying hundreds of organisations, we ranked their performance in correlation with their ability to speak up and address an issue.

  • In the worst organisations, no one confronts effectively – whether employee to employee, supervisor to employee, or employee to supervisor.
  • In the good organisations, supervisors or people with power can confront. Having trained hundreds of thousands of people, we know we can train supervisors and parents to hold people accountable.
  • In the best organisations, anyone can hold anyone accountable, regardless of position or title. When this happens, results improve significantly.

Diagnosis: The First Step

Dealing with these issues through effective accountability – whether in the corporate setting, home setting, or team setting – begins with diagnosis. Diagnosing the problem – understanding the real reason someone is behaving a certain way –  helps us to be patient and start off on the right foot when confronting. It also helps us not over simplify and prejudge, which are common mistakes when talking about accountability.

Let’s look at an example of how to diagnose in a problematic situation:

You work on a self-directed team. Your team sets the goals and builds part of a machine. The team that precedes you in the process is vital to your team’s performance. They agree to follow a process that gives you 50 quality parts on time, every 75 minutes per shift.

Today you received two partial allotments, about 45 pieces and they are about 45 minutes late, but the quality is excellent. The senior person in the other department – who happens to have 12 more years of experience than you – is a stickler for quality. She is also somewhat rude. When she delivered the last allotment, you tried to talk to her but she said, “just be glad we don’t deliver rubbish to you” and left before you could talk. She’s now coming with the third allotment for the day. It’s also late and incomplete.

What do you do? What do most people do? Again, most people avoid.

What’s the next thing they do? They would jump to conclusions and be offended. They might ask, “How could they possibly do that to me?”. They’d believe that the motivation behind being late and short on the order was a personal attack.

But if you were to pause and diagnose, you would ask, “Why would a reasonable rational decent person do that, and could it be more complicated than I know? Could it be that she had some staff not show up? Could it be she has a machine that’s broken down? Could it be that the boss told her, “You get quality right every time or it’s going on your performance report”?

She may get quality right every time but it comes at the expense of fewer parts and late delivery. How you diagnose this issue could make the difference in how you approach the confrontation with her in the future.

Why Should We Diagnose?

The first reason we diagnose is that it helps us be patient and not oversimplify the situation. The patience gained by diagnosing will dramatically improve the beginning of the confrontation.

The second reason you diagnose is that it helps us move beyond problem-solving to problem-prevention. This is essential for the long term accountability in an organisation.

Moving beyond the crisis management to problem prevention makes a huge difference in the relationship you have with people who work with you.

When people look at confrontations, they often think it’s a little scary. If you look at the original root word for confrontation, it means a forehead to forehead talk – a face to face talk – to hold someone accountable.

We’ve seen people embrace this and make enormous changes in their company and in their family. Once you become skillful in diagnosing, then you have the first step to talk about tough issues. If we avoid these talks, the issues won’t go away. Time doesn’t cure very much.

There’s a saying by Clementine Paddleford that we find helpful to remember the need for effective accountability.

“Never grow a wishbone where a backbone ought to be.”

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